In 1982, I had a dream in which I was told that I would be receiving an inheritance of great value from an unknown ancestor. Within a few days after that dream, through a series of synchronisic events, I realized that my inheritance was the Tarot and I received a deck as a gift from a friend. I had known about the Tarot before this but the magical events that were initiated by my dream focused my attention on the Tarot as never before and I came to see the deck as part of my personal spiritual journey. From that day on the Tarot has become the primary focus of my work as an artist, a scholar, and a philosopher.
In 1987, while studying an alchemical illustration representing the Philosopher's Stone, I had a revelation that this image was symbolically interchangeable with the Tarot's World card. This realization was like a key that opened a lock to a forgotten door. I sat mesmerized as images poured out of this new portal in my mind, forming a parade of alchemical illustrations that were spontaneously paired with Tarot trumps. It became obvious that the trumps can be alchemical, and that the series of trumps describes the alchemical Opus. This insight led me into more research, writing, and drawing and after eight years the result was the Alchemical Tarot The Alchemical Tarot was originally published by Harper/Collins in London, in 1995. That edition is now out of print but it became world famous and copies have sold for over $2,000. I recovered the rights to the deck and self-published two new editions (the last edition was funded by my previous campaign on Indiegogo). I have also rewritten the companion book, expanding greatly on the historic background and insights into symbolism. I self-published it as, Alchemy and the Tarot. The Art from the deck has been exhibited at the Tarot Museum in Riola, Italy and at the LA Craft and Folkart Museum, and appeared on numerous television shows.
Meanwhile, I continued to work on new decks and books, I designed and authored the Tarot of the Saints, The Angels Tarot, the Buddha Tarot, and the Vampire Tarot. I authored The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, which the American Library Association said may be the best book ever written on the subject. I have taught about the Tarot at Omega, the NY Open Center, and the Readers Studio, curated a Tarot exhibition for the LA Craft and Folkart Museum, lectured regularly on the Tarot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appeared in documentaries produced by the BBC and independent film makers, and cut the ribbon at opening of the Tarot Museum in Italy. I have become recognized as an expert and a scholar of the Tarot. Through all of this activity, however, I was working in my spare time on a new Tarot deck that would be the culmination and synthesis of all my art and scholarship. This is the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, a deck that I have been working on for at least ten years and that is now ready for publication.
The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
I started on The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery because of my love of the 19th century Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Edward Burne-Jones, with their melancholy, otherworldly settings, peopled by tall, pale, stunningly beautiful women and equally memorable heroic men. Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites believed that art was a spiritual or magical endeavor and toward this end they formed a mystical brotherhood of English artists dedicated to recapturing the sincerity of the art of the early Renaissance-the same period that gave us the Tarot. Burne-Jones was one of the most prominent artists in this movement and it was the work of these artists and mystics that created the fertile soil in which the Golden Dawn took root.
Burne-Jones based his tall female “stunners” and melancholy heroes on the paintings of Botticelli and Michelangelo, two artists whose works are considered primary examples of Renaissance Neoplatonic mysticism. His work expresses the Renaissance ideal that physical beauty and spiritual beauty are linked in one continuum that can lead to the mystical experience of beauty itself, as a timeless, underlying reality. Plato described this reality as a radiant light that is the true food of the soul. He said that this light is made of the true essence of Virtue, a higher quality of virtue, beyond mere codes of behavior. In the Renaissance, artists, like Botticelli, symbolized this spiritual essence as an ideal female nude and my studies have shown that it is this ideal that allowed early Tarot artists to place a nude on the World card as a symbol of the primary beauty.
Because Burne-Jones was inspired by the beauty and symbolism of the 15th century, it is not surprising that he painted many of the same themes that we find in the Tarot, such as Temperance, Lovers, and the Wheel of Fortune. It seemed to me that he was creating a Tarot but he never finished it. I started this deck with a desire to finish Burne-Jones's Tarot for him. I wanted to see what a deck would look like if it were done in his style and with his sense of sensuality and symbolism. I also realized that it would express the Neoplatonic ideal that I believed was expressed in the Tarot from its origin. By proceeding with this intent, this deck became a bridge between the art and occult symbolism of the 19th century and the iconography and mystical philosophy of the 15th century. It shows that they are both rooted in the perennial mystery that is like a golden thread running through Western History.
In Neoplatonic mysticism, numbers are used as symbols and the numbers three and seven are of primary importance. As testament to its Neoplatonic origin, the Tarot has a 5th suit composed of an unnumbered Fool and three times seven trumps. Plato theorized that each person has three souls: the Sole of Appetite, the Soul of Will, and the Soul of Reason, which he symbolized as a chariot with two winged horses and a driver. These three represented a spiritual hierarchy and as individuals developed and balanced each soul through the practice of virtue they were able to advance spiritually and operate at a higher soul level. The keys to spiritual advancement were the Cardinal Virtues. Plato and later philosophers assigned three virtues, one to each of the soul levels, and these are the same three that are depicted in the Tarot: Temperance to the Soul of Appetite, Strength to the Soul of Will, and Justice to the Soul of Reason. If we divide the twenty-one trumps into three groups of seven we find the theme of each group corresponds sequentially to these three soul levels and the sequence also depicts the three virtues that are necessary to bring them into balance.
In Plato's theory the complete set of Cardinal Virtues contained a forth called Prudence. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, philosophers theorized that the forth virtue. Prudence, contained the other three. So that Temperance, Strength, and Justice were the three virtues necessary to develop the totality that was Prudence. In this view, Prudence represented not just wisdom but a mystical state of enlightenment that was reached when the lesser three virtues brought the soul levels into balance and health. In the Tarot, Prudence is represented by the World card, which represents Prudence as a Botticelli-like beautiful nude. Philosophers equated her with the Soul of the World, which helps to explain the title of the trump. Her Christian counterpart was Sophia, the wisdom of God, who was said to be the mother of the three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. With these three the total number of virtues is brought up to seven and this is the sevenfold mystery.
The importance of the number seven was derived from its role in ancient cosmology. From the ancient world until the late Renaissance, the Earth was believed to be the unmoving center of the universe and the fixed stars, formed into constellations, revolved around the Earth from east to west. Between the fixed stars and the Earth, there were believed to be a series of seven crystal spheres, forming seven layers each one closer to the stars as they ascended. On each sphere the ancients placed a planet that orbited independently from the fixed stars. When the sky is viewed with the naked eye, the planets are the only celestial objects that seem to do this. The planets were each named after a god; from the bottom up, they were: Luna, Mercury, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The planets were, also, believed to from a ladder between Heaven and Earth that the soul would descend at birth and at each planet the soul was given certain qualities by the god of the planet. These qualities are the source of the lists or seven virtues and seven vices.
The seven planets were thought of as the soul centers of the cosmos and corresponding soul centers could be found ascending the spine, from the sacrum to the crown of the head, in the microcosm of the human body. Pythagoras developed the diatonic music scale with seven notes to capture the sound that each planet made as it orbited the Earth. This was called the music of the spheres. He marked each note with one of the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet and through a musical treatment used this scale to bring the human soul centers into harmony with the planets. These notes functioned as virtues meant to heal each soul center. Later, lists of seven virtues meant to cure seven vices-each associated with a soul center-began to appear in Hermetic, Gnostic, and mystical Christian philosophy. I believe that the Tarot’s trumps depict Virtue driving an ascent through the seven soul centers depicted repeatedly on three levels, corresponding to the three Platonic soul levels. The final achievement of this ascent is illustrated on the Soul of the World card, which depicts Prudence/Sophia as the light of higher consciousness and the true food of the soul.
My Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery is designed to illustrate and clarify this mystical heritage found in the series of the trumps. The four minor suits are based on the work I did for the Alchemical Tarot but in a Pre-Raphaelite style and with a stronger connection with traditional decks. The deck will come with a little white book and eventually there will be a companion book. Meanwhile, the philosophy of the trumps is explained fully in chapter four of my Alchemy and the Tarot, and the descriptions of the alchemical minor suits in chapter seven will be applicable to this new deck.
You can see more images from the deck at my websites:
To learn more about the deck, read this interview that I did with Tarot author, James Ricklef:
What I Need and What You Get
This edition is ready to print and I need $6,000 for printing costs. If I do not receive all of this money, I can print a smaller edition and I will make up any balance in the payment myself. If you contribute you will receive your premiums. If I receive more funds I will be able to do a larger printing and any donations over the amount needed for printing will function as preorders. After the deck is in print, I will be selling it through my websites
Donate $25 and you'll get a 8.5” by 11” signed archival gyclee print of your choice of one of The Sevenfold Mystery illustrations. These prints sell for $30 plus shipping on my website.
Donate $40 and you'll receive a signed copy of The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
Donate $75 and you'll receive the signed Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, and a signed copy of the book, Alchemy and the Tarot.
Donate $110 and you'll receive the signed Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, a copy of the Alchemical Tarot, and a signed copy of the book, Alchemy and the Tarot.
Donate $175 and you will receive the archival print, the signed Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, a copy of the Alchemical Tarot, a signed copy of the book, Alchemy and the Tarot, and my book, The Fool's Journey, with large illustrations of the annotated version of the Sevenfold Mystery trumps.
Donate $225 and you will receive the signed Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, a copy of the Alchemical Tarot, a signed copy of the book, Alchemy and the Tarot, and a one hour Tarot reading with the deck (in person if possible or otherwise over the phone).
Donate $600 and you will receive an art edition of the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. This deck will be a gyclee printing on archival cotton paper with archival ink and comes in a handmade archival box. It will be similar to the art edition of the Alchemical Tarot displayed on my website. You will also receive a copy of Alchemy and the Tarot.
I have also added some new perks - see the list on the right.
Other Ways You Can Help
If you would like to see the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery in print, please spread the word. Tweet, post to Facebook, your Wordpress blog, Aeclectic Tarot Forum, or any other media you have access to. Thank you for your encouragement and support.
Robert M. Place
artist and author